Monday, April 19, 2004

Errol Morris: Truth exists.

I must say, The Believer is just a superb magazine.

Here's from Nick Poppy's interview with documentary filmmaker Errol Morris in the latest issue:
EM: I was surprised at the time that The Thin Blue Line came out that people reacted to the reenactments as blurring the distinction between fact and fiction. Between documentary and drama. My feeling was the exact opposite. It was telling us how images can confuse us. Images are not reality, nor do I claim that they are. In fact, they usually bear a very complicated relationship to reality. And when people complain about reenactments, I like to point out that consciousness, itself, is a reenactment. Everything is a reenactment. We are reenacting the world in the mind. The world is not inside there. It does not reside in the gray matter of the brain. Think of my movies as heightening our awareness, not confusing the difference between truth and fiction, but heightening our awareness of how confused we can become about what is real.
Precisely! This is -- to flog a favourite horse of mine -- why I believe media literacy courses should be mandatory in all high schools.

It amazes me how many people complain about the media -- newspapers, television, radio, blogs -- for being biased. Well, of course, they're biased. They are filters of reality, not reality itself. Some biases are obvious -- ie. the political leanings of the National Post or the Toronto Star -- while others are hidden and hidden deep within the very media formats themselves -- ie. blogs, because of the way they are constructed, are prone to pithiness over deep analysis.

Now, some might read Morris's comments and think that he is arguing the old pomo trope that there is no truth. But Morris believes no such thing:
EM: I was at a screening of The Fog of War just a couple of nights ago and someone asked me about Rashomon, and about my comment that he remembers from the time that The Thin Blue Line came out, that I do not believe that the truth is subjective. Just thinking something does not make it so. This idea that there is no reality, that truth is up for grabs, or that truth is subjective, I find foolish and unappetizing... I believe in the real world. Just like there's a fact of the matter of whether there was an attack on August 4th [1964] in the Gulf of Tonkin. It's not up for grabs. Either we were attacked or we weren't attacked. Either there were North Vietnamese gunboats shooting at the Maddox and the Turner Joy, or there weren't.

I looked at Rashomon about a month ago. I rewatched it, and much to my surprise, Rashomon isn't Rashomon. Rashomon is not a movie about the subjectivity of truth. That there's no objective truth, just subjective truth. A truth for you, a truth for me. On the contrary, it's a movie about how everybody sees the world differently. But the claim that everybody sees the world differently is not a claim that there's no reality. It's a different kind of claim. What really surprised me on rewatching Rashomon is that you know what really happened at the end. It's pretty damn clear.
Read the whole interview in the latest issue of The Believer.

Post-script

Needless to say, I'm a fan of Morris's work. In fact, The Fog of War is the only movie I've given a full four stars to since I started at The Post. Here's the review.

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